Project managers are good at risk management.
One of the things we do is identify what we can’t control and then find solutions or actions to mitigate these things. Typically, this means we’re thinking through things like potentially bad weather affecting an outdoor event or how to contain a protester at a women’s event.
These types of risk management plans are appropriate, necessary, and responsible.
And then along came the coronavirus pandemic. We’re not going to lie – this challenges even those of us who spend a lot of time identifying and planning for risks.
Once the Centers for Disease Control recommended that many group activities be postponed or canceled, we all took a deep breath. In addition to deciding whether to work from home and how to take care of your personal needs, some of you may also be trying to make plans for an event or gathering that now can’t be held.
It’s true: a great project manager has been there, done that. As Kayla Gefroh, owner of Purpose Learning Group in Fargo, once described: “She’ll have backup plans to mitigate any unforeseen risks and will pack an umbrella.”
When it comes to pandemics, we haven’t “been there, done that,” but we’ve had to make hard decisions about scheduled events that fell through for one reason or another.
Perhaps like us, you’re now faced with no longer being able to hold an event on a scheduled date at a certain location. In some ways, that decision has been made for you. Now it’s the hard part: do you postpone or cancel?
Postponing is likely always the ideal solution, but it may not be realistic. Here are some questions you should consider before making a final decision:
1. What kind of event is it? If your event is required training for professionals or a huge fundraiser for a nonprofit that relies on that income, it makes good sense to reschedule. Even if it takes a couple months to get things arranged, the outcome far outweighs the inconvenience.
2. What are the effects on stakeholders if you postpone? Cancel? Consider your internal stakeholders (immediate staff, suppliers, contractors) and external stakeholders (those with interest in the project, donors, community members). Will rescheduling add more work to a small staff’s responsibilities? Will your donors support you without the event?
3. Does the venue have alternative date(s) available? This is a tough, but practical question. If lots of events are having to reschedule, it may be difficult to find a new date. If you can’t find another date, ask if your venue will refund deposits.
4. Is your speaker or featured entertainment available on an alternative date(s)? Or can someone else step into that role? Finding a new group for background music at a social may be possible. But if the whole purpose of the event is to experience a specific speaker, he or she needs to be part of the postponed event. Otherwise, cancel.
Once you’ve made the decision, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’ve decided to postpone, try to share the new date at the same time you announce the closing of the original date. We know that isn’t always possible, especially when there’s much uncertainty.
And, to reduce the number of people asking the same question, be sure to communicate updates through social media, email blasts, text, message, and website announcements.
For every project we do at Reach Partners, we include a list of all the things we don’t have control over – both the positive and negative events. We never expected “pandemic” to be on it.
But, like all good project managers, we will find solutions and contingencies that work. We hope you do, too.
In the upper Midwest, February can be a tough month. Winter has worn out its welcome and spring doesn't dare reveal its promise. The days are longer, but sub-zero temps are still possible. Even the snow looks tired.
And yet, we are reminded that beauty still exists. After all, beauty is more than a visual aesthetic, it's an attitude. Wherever we are, whatever the season, we search for beauty all year long.
From the exquisite gala to the unglamorous gathering, we spend a lot of time at Reach Partners researching and thinking about the unsung aspects of events.
One question we ask every single time we design an event is essential. Why will (or should) a person attend the event? Time is a rare and limited resource. If we want someone to spend precious minutes at our gathering or get-together, we better understand and communicate why they should do so.
At Reach, we always stress that purpose is the driver for any event. When that purpose is well defined, creatively and accurately articulated, it informs the language we use for everything else. It becomes part of the call to action – what we want our attendees to do.
How you will get people to an event, a gathering, or a meeting is very important. After all, if you can’t get people to your event, everything else is pointless. And the “how” sets the tone. To begin with, how you get people interested your gathering must be part of the communication plan. This helps to set and manage expectations, provides context, and builds excitement. Part of this plan includes a strong understanding how you will ask people to participate.
When we make that call to action, we also have choices. Simply, will our call to action be passive or active? When we ask people to attend, will we invite or recruit? Which method we choose sets up different expectations for the attendees – and those hosting the event.
Passive Request: An Invitation
Issuing an invitation is appropriate for many events. This is the typical request where the host wants and encourages your presence, your attendance, or your participation. The main distinction is the event is not specifically for you. You are most certainly a valued guest, but the host is the one who gets the most out of your participation.
In these cases where the event is most meaningful to the host (think: wedding or party, fundraiser, marketing event or activity, awards ceremony, or even a football game) the attendee’s purpose is to witness, observe, demonstrate loyalty, or give.
Of course, the attendee likely will (and should!) absorb some benefits from attending. Maybe he or she expands their network, learns a new skill, enjoys a nice meal, or earns bragging rights for being part of something big. That said, the attendee is called to something and that call is passive.
Some common passive forms of invitation are social media or traditional media campaigns, broadcast email, direct mail, postcards, and invitations.
Active Request: A Recruitment
When recruited to an event or gathering, you are called for something (active).
This is quite different compared to an invitation. Recruitment suggests the event is first meaningful to the attendee. Its relevance to the audience is customized for the recruited. Some examples: networking, board meetings, learning and training.
In these cases, the host recruits a person specifically. He or she has skills, experiences, funds, or assets that will contribute to the success of an event, gathering, or meeting.
Some active forms of recruitment include a phone call, a handwritten note, bespoke email campaign, direct marketing, or an application. Whatever form it takes, recruitment is personal and personalized. It’s a tailored effort to get that special person involved.
The important thing to remember is that whether you invite or recruit is irrelevant. What matters is that as an event planner or organizer you are intentional about your choice. It sets the stage for everything else to come.
C.S. Lewis once said that integrity is doing what is right even when nobody is watching. We like that definition, and we like our own interpretation: Integrity means we do what we say we are going to do.
At Reach Partners, we don't make empty promises to make our partners and ourselves feel good. We follow through. And we enjoy working with partners who do the same. We value integrity; here are some ways we do:
Every time we facilitate or manage an off-site meeting or event, we bring a lot with us.
Our vehicles are usually packed with necessities like centerpieces, easels, easel pads, signage, folders, programs, our documents . . . you name it.
Arguably, one of the most valuable items we haul is our trusty Husky toolbox.
It took us a while to realize we needed a container where we could prepack all the small office supplies one needs or might need when away from their office. We had been making do by grabbing a scissors from a desk and Post-it notes from the supply cabinet. But then we’d forget to return the scissors to the right person, and Linda wondered where her stapler was. And don’t even get us started on how much time it took to pack those items. Every. Single. Time.
If you regularly hold events away from the office, you never know when you might need a scissors or an extra roll of tape. Yes, course, you could ask someone at the conference center if you could borrow theirs. Or you could make a last-minute run to a store. But it’s less time-consuming and less stressful if you know exactly where yours is. Plus it builds credibility when someone says, “I need a Sharpie,” and you can practically hand them one before they finish the sentence.
So, up your game and bring your own supplies. You’ll be the hero.
You can pack office supplies in any container. We use an actual toolbox because it has a comfortable, heavy duty handle for carrying. It also closes with latches so that small items don’t fall out during transport. But a clear storage tub of any size would work.
Use smaller clear storage containers within the tool box (or larger tub) to keep things organized and easy to find. If you own a label maker (because really, who doesn’t?!), be sure to label each storage container so you can easily identify items and see those that need to be restocked.
While you could use opaque storage containers, clear ones make it much easier to see what is inside without opening each container. Time saver!
What you include in your toolbox depends on where the event or meeting is held. For example, you may add sunscreen and bug spray to the kit if you’re hosting an outdoor event.
But here’s a list of some standard supplies that can be prepacked and ready to go without too much preparation:
We love having these supplies ready to go at a moment’s notice. A quick review before an off-site event and we’re prepared for the unexpected. Our biggest challenge is remembering to restock items after every use.
Happy supply packing!
A new year – and possibly a new decade?! – will be here before we know it.
As we celebrate Christmas and New Year's with our family and friends, we also will spend some time reflecting on all that happened in 2019 and all we dream of for 2020.
No year is perfect. Frustrations and disappointments often walk hand-in-hand with beauty and exhilaration. Tears and laughter become close neighbors.
And yet, each new year stretches with the promise of possibility. Below are some of the possibilities we discovered in 2019. May you find your own in 2020.
Every company gets to the point where it needs to hire an outside vendor or consultant.
Maybe you’ve hired someone to assist with marketing materials or accounting needs. Maybe you’ve contracted with someone to help you determine future staffing opportunities or to complete a one-off project.
At Reach Partners, we often step in when a business’s internal team is too busy to complete a job or an organization needs our expertise in planning and problem-solving.
We’ve been asked to determine the best way to move 18,000 people from numerous parking lots to an event site in less than three hours. Our clients have hired us to launch a seminar series in three states and to keep a coalition of experts on task.
Every single time, we see ourselves as partners – not just vendors or consultants, but actual partners.
Huh? What’s the difference?
For us, being a partner means we’re a seamless extension of another team. We bring value and structure to a process, but we don’t take it over. Our favorite successes are when a client’s clients or colleagues don’t even know we’re part of the process.
So, how do you know when you’ve hired an actual partner – and not just somebody who completes the job?
Enjoy your partnerships!
Gratitude is a value that we practice every single day at Reach Partners. Work -- and life, frankly -- is more enjoyable when we are thankful for all things, big and small.
November is the perfect time to reflect on all we've been grateful for over the past year. Here are just a few of those moments (and there are oh-so-many-more that you can check out on Twitter at #ReachGratitude):
Have you ever taken your car to the shop, knowing that the mechanic needs to order a part before the problem can be fixed?
Consider two scenarios.
Scenario one: You leave your car at the shop on Monday. You don’t get a phone call that day or early the next. Finally, at noon on Tuesday you call the mechanic and find out the part was delayed. It arrived shortly before you called, and it will be another day before the work is done.
Scenario two: You leave your car at the shop on Monday. Your mechanic calls a couple of hours later and explains the part is delayed. It will arrive on Tuesday, and the car will be ready on Wednesday.
The outcomes are identical in both scenarios: you get your car back on Wednesday. Which one would you prefer? Which one treats you with more respect?
It can feel awkward to communicate when there’s no action or forward movement on a project. After all, no news is good news, right?
At Reach Partners, we establish frequent touchpoints with our partners. These real-time conversations happen no matter what happens or doesn’t happen with a project.
Progress made? We communicate.
Problem uncovered? We communicate.
Nothing happened? We communicate.
Most of us pick up the phone or send an email when progress and problems happen. Doing the same when there’s nothing to report is just as critical.
We don’t want our partners to waste energy wondering about the status of a project. We communicate with clarity and integrity, even when the news to share is a big, fat zilch.
This keeps clients from assuming the best or the worst. It assures our clients that their project is important to us. It also makes it easier to connect when we have bad news to share, such as delays or blocks that might affect a project timeline.
After all, nobody wants to get a call only when something isn’t going right.
Think about it in these terms. If you’re selling your house, a weekly conversation with your Realtor makes you feel good. Even if there are weeks that nobody has looked at your home, you feel like things are moving in the right direction. You are confident that your house will sell.
Communicating nonaction will do that.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Adapted from a blog that originally ran in April 2017.
Once the last event attendee has left and the vendors have packed up, go ahead and put your feet up.
Only for a minute or two, though.
The event may be done, but that doesn’t mean the work of an event planner is complete. Every event should include an evaluation or survey that helps you determine whether the event accomplished what you set out to do.
Consider evaluations your reality check. They confirm whether you’ve done what you wanted to do and help improve your next event or program.
After all, we don’t plan events or programs for ourselves or because we’ve always done it. Events fall flat if the participants didn’t learn anything or didn’t enjoy the day. If you’ve done your homework and established a great strategy, you’ll want to know what participants thought.
This can be easier said than done. After all, we want to know everything: What lessons did we learn? Where can we improve? Did we meet participants’ expectations?
The more I research why and how to evaluate, the more I realize how overwhelming it can be. It’s equal parts science and art. To start, as planners we want to evaluate measurable outcomes.
Easy Ways to Ask
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to evaluate an event or program is by using a Net Promotor Score (NPS). Many software and product companies use this method for feedback, but it’s relevant for gathering input from event participants, too.
NPS is a simple one-question, 10-point scale survey with an option for participants to add comments. Essentially, you ask participants how likely they are to recommend your event to friends and colleagues on a scale of 0 to 10. There’s a formula for calculating your overall score, but the higher the number, the more likely your event was a success.
An NPS score won’t be helpful in all situations. If you have specific goals, be sure to ask questions related directly to those. For example, if your goal was to attract women between the ages of 30 and 45, gather demographic information in your survey. If you promised your sponsors that participants would become more involved in your community after attending the program, ask participants whether that is happening.
Some common survey questions:
When and How to Gather
It’s best to get feedback while the activity is fresh for the participant. (Of course, you need to have your survey ready to go before the event takes place. This isn’t the time to procrastinate.) Consider asking attendees to fill out a short survey at intermission or between topic changes during an in-depth seminar. Send a survey by email the morning or evening after a day-long conference.
Evaluations can happen in person, in writing or by email. Interview parents while kids are occupied with an activity. When the event is done, collect a written survey placed in the program. Send a survey a day or two later by email.
Be sure to ask participants, planners, and committee members to respond to your evaluation. Keep in mind that the separate surveys may need to be sent to each of these distinct groups. After all, you may want to gather different information from each of these groups. They all view the event from a different perspective and deserve to be heard.
No, your event isn’t done until your post-event evaluation is. Embrace the feedback and make your next event even better.